• Dulcie Crowther

A Dearth of Reading

Updated: Apr 2, 2020

I love to read, but I have a hard time reading a book. A conundrum, indeed! I have a hard time reading a book because I scarcely get through a page before finding a word that sparks my curiosity. When that happens, I check two of my favorite websites - Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and Etymonline to see if they have any hints on why the word is spelled the way it is. That, of course, leads me from the word I’ve looked up to another word, and then another word, and then another, and so on, until once again I’ve gone down a rabbit hole in the world of words.

Today it was dearth. I’m not sure I would have spelled it that way yesterday if I was suddenly part of a spelling contest. An idea that might cause some to start sweating, but would have me dancing in my seat silently pleading to this spontaneous, fictionalized Bee organizer, “Pick me! Over here! Pick me!” I think I would have gone with *<dirth> like in similar sounding words <dirt> and <dirk> and <Dirk Pitt>. I’d have been out in round one. A word’s spelling must be considered in the context of what it means and what its related words are, as well as how it sounds. We should not spell based on sound alone.

So, I looked in Etymonline and cross referenced with my friends Merriam and Webster. Today, I preferred the latter’s entry in its simplicity. Don’t worry, Mr. Harper, I might choose you for the next word, though I do have to credit you for the excellent list of related words used in my matrices. I didn’t even have to look in Merriam-Webster’s History and Etymology section at the bottom of the page for this one. It was right there at the top of my screen in their first definition - “scarcity that makes dear”. When food is scarce, it becomes very dear, a precious commodity. Scrolling down to the History and Etymology section verifies the <-th> suffix. My word sum would look like this:

dear + th → dearth

Words sums are “announced” and should be read aloud as follows, “d.ea.r plus .th. is rewritten as”

Here are two word matrices. The first focusing on the base element of <dear>, the second highlighting the suffix <-th>.

I just love making word sums and word matrices and investigating word families! Wait. What was I supposed to be doing? Oh yeah, p. 54. “Tell me,” he coaxed. “Tell me so that I may understand.” Hmmm. Coaxed. That’s an interesting word . . .

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